What is a Content Strategy? 5 Steps to an Effective Content Plan

Let’s face it: There’s a lot of competition in business. And in such a saturated market, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. That’s where a strong, purposeful content strategy comes in.

At first glance creating content might seem like a passive way to approach your business goals, but a successful content strategy can bring big value in building trust and reaching new customers while also providing added value to old ones. It’s why 70% of marketers are actively investing in content marketing, and nearly 40% say it plays a leading role in their overall marketing strategy. 

So, what is a content strategy? And what does it take to build an effective one? Let’s explore.

What is a Content Strategy?

A content strategy is a plan that leverages content in its many forms—blog posts, social, video, audio, etc.—to achieve business goals, from increasing brand awareness to boosting conversions. An effective content strategy will engage with target audiences at every stage of the sales funnel, even after they make a purchase. 

Here at Motion, we believe that content is king, but only if it adds value, educates, informs or entertains intended audiences in the safe spaces that they have deemed worthy of absorbing content. Ensuring your content is purposeful not only in subject matter that is relevant to your audiences but also that naturally and natively lives and flows where they are—digitally and mentally—is key to building out and executing any B2B, B2C or DTC content strategy. 

Some of your content plan will be informed by data such as audience pain points, emotional triggers, and buying patterns, and some of it is guided by experience and trial and error. Social media and the open dialogue happening in and around brands also plays a role. Together all these avenues can be structured and built to produce an audience-first, engaging and dynamic content strategy.

Types of Content

Just as your audience isn’t one-size-fits-all, neither is content. Although every content strategy will differ from brand to brand, it is generally a mix of four types of content: content marketing, branded content, social media content and native advertising.

Content marketing is focused on creating valuable, relevant content specifically for a targeted audience. Audience is everything in content marketing, and as such all of your content marketing materials should aim to address audience needs.  

When it comes to strategic content marketing, our goal at Motion is to establish, maintain and strengthen your brand’s reach and reputation with audiences and partners at key moments in their discovery and decision-making process. Because at the end of the day, it’s their jobs, their customers, their bottom line, their successes and their overall lives we are trying to improve.

Branded content

Branded content is about highlighting your brand’s values and stories for all audiences. Unlike content marketing, branded content is for everyone and often takes the form of a sponsored or paid partnership.

Social media content

Social media content allows brands to engage with existing audiences while reaching new ones and promoting company culture, values and business goals. Social content can include shareable, brand-specific content; user-generated content (UGC); influencer content, which may include branded content; and creator content, which unlike influencers focuses more on the quality of the content versus personality and reach. 

Native advertising

Native advertising is paid, third-party advertising, where your content matches the look and feel of the medium you’re advertising on.

Keep in mind that, depending on your content goals, the combination of effective content marketing, branded content, social media content and native advertising likely won’t be equal, and you may have to fine tune just how much of each content type resonates with your audience over time.

5 Steps to Writing a Successful Content Strategy

1. Identify your content goals.

What will writing branded content bring to the table? Do you want it to increase brand awareness? Showcase a new product launch? Drive conversions? In other words, what’s the point? Developing content for content’s sake doesn’t help you or your audience—and may actually hurt you in the long run. 

Think of it  like this: Let’s say you’re at a dinner party, and the discussion around the table is guests’ favorite birds (in this example, you and your friends are very clearly into ornithology). As everyone is name dropping bird species, you chime in with, “birds can fly!”  

It’s a true statement, sure, but in a room filled with people who already understand bird behavior, the comment doesn’t really mean anything. It doesn’t relate to the conversation, nor is it suited for your audience, leaving you in an unfavorable light and likely diminishing your credibility. 

However, say you said this instead: “Ostriches are my favorite species. Did you know that they can’t fly because they have flat breast bones that lack the structure needed to support flight?” In this case, you’re not only adding your voice to the conversation but also staying on-topic and providing an educational opportunity—something that your bird-savvy friends will find interesting, useful and can learn from. 

The point: A content strategy can help you jump into industry conversation and showcase your brand’s expertise, but if what you have to say doesn’t provide value to your audience, and therefore doesn’t help you meet your business goals, then you may be better off not saying anything.

2. Identify your audience.

A successful content strategy adds real value when it relates directly to its audience, so it’s imperative to get specific and define who that actually is. 

Of course, who your audience is will differ based on your brand and business goals—in fact, a successful content strategy will have more than one segmented audience to align with the various audiences who interact with your brand. The key is identifying these targeted groups, and then doing the research to understand them as people and their needs. Where do they live? How old are they? What topics are they interested in? Where do they hang out online? What are they searching for?

Once you have the answers to these types of questions, you can set out to create a content strategy that not only gives them the content they want but also delivers content in a way that is easily accessible and digestible. At Motion, we call this an audience-first approach to content, a strategic process that produces audience-specific, shareable and relatable content while also strengthening a brand’s reach and reputation.

Our North Star here at Motion is to think of building a content strategy this way: What does sharing, retweeting, liking and engaging with our content mean for that audience’s own personal social and digital brand?  

3. Find your story.

Now that you know the goals and audiences behind your content strategy, it’s time to figure out the individual stories behind each piece of content. And that really comes down to two questions: What stories can you tell that authentically align with your brand and provide value to your audience? What topics are in your brand’s wheelhouse that you have the authority to publish?

This part of your content strategy requires you to dig deep into your brand’s capabilities, your competitors and the media landscape at large. Conduct an internal audit to identify your areas of expertise—in other words, the topics your brand can authentically speak to. Then, look outward: What has already been published? What is your audience searching for? Where are there gaps in existing content? How can your brand and content team fill those gaps? 

At Motion we always take a step deeper into the factors affecting, impacting and distracting our intended audiences. It’s more than market share—we also want to understand the mindshare of our audience. What is happening culturally, politically, professionally, regionally or globally across their industry, across the news cycle or trending within social platforms they readily use? We need to understand what else is out there in the physical and digital world that might help us make headway or, conversely, impede our content from reaching and adding value to our audiences.

Based on this external audit, you can cross-reference your own goals with audience needs to land on content topics that work toward your objectives, address audience interests and pain points and provide valuable content missing from larger industry conversation.

4. Consider the distribution platform.

Once you create content, you can’t expect it to go viral on its own. You have to find ways to get it in front of audiences—and make it shareable so that once audiences do find it, they can easily share it within their own networks.

The tricky part: Every content distribution platform has its own nuances, which means an effective content strategy must produce content conducive to each platform. Long-form editorial, video, infographics, podcasts—there are infinite ways to share your brand’s story. 

When conceptualizing your content strategy, it’s not only about finding the right topic but also choosing the right content format and platform to distribute and breathe life into it. We call this “platforms with purpose.” If your brand has a blog, for instance, this may be where you go deep into thought leadership or other long-form editorial pieces. Meanwhile, on social media, you may leverage video to drive home similar stories and takeaways but produce and serve up the content differently to best use the functionality of the platform it lives on and how your audience expects to see, view, read, share and repurpose content while they are using that platform.

In fact, 94% of marketers use social media as a main distribution channel, so it’s important to get to know each platform—and how users interact on them—intimately. Like creating content for content’s sake, you should also keep in mind the natural publishing cadence for each channel so that your content is useful to users and not bothersome or annoying. Users on platforms such as Twitter, for example, expect multiple posts per day, while other channels, such as Instagram or LinkedIn, may require less posts. The key is to find a cadence that feels organic to both the platform and the user experience.

5. Analyze the data and refine.

Once content is published doesn’t mean that the job is done. To ensure that you continue to create valuable content to your audience over time, you must look at the data behind each post to measure what content strategies, platforms, topics and formats are resonating with your audience and which may be falling flat. Not every piece of content is going to be a home run, and that’s OK. What’s important is seeing what does work and using that information to refine your content strategy over time.

At the end of the day, there is no one way to create a content strategy, but with these tips in mind, you can work toward an audience-first content approach that resonates with your community, provides value, builds credibility and meets your business goals.

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